It was the first Olympics for myself and about 60000 other volunteers but for many people including athletes, coaches and dignitaries, this is "just" one other.
And as with many traditions, all sorts of rituals and habits grow into and around the main show.
Hence the "Pins Exchange".
This is how it works: every delegation brings with them a series of ordinary pins that represent their country and the Olympics and each athlete and member of delegation ( and volunteers if you are lucky) get a handful of them to do as they please. The pins rapidly evolve into some sort of currency as athletes start exchanging them with team-mates from other countries and wear them on their accreditation. Delegations also start giving them out to people who have done them a service ( giving directions, helping them in some small way) and before you know it, you see individuals walking around the village with gleaming lanyards full of pins. Competition then comes in and some pins are considered more valuable or sought after than others ( Jamaica, USA being unsurprisingly one of the favourites). Soon everyone looks at your lanyard before checking out your name on the pass and finally looking at your face. "Do you have any pins to exchange?" becomes a favoured icebreaker.
The frenzy evolves to the point where outside the village you will have a real street market for pins, where visitors who have been to previous Olympics will bring in their collection and start trading. I met this American who was a volunteer at the 1984 games and has been going to each Games since, hooked by the virus, "there is simply nothing quite like the Olympics". At every Game he brings pins to trade and collect the ones he wants from the current event. This way he met Queen Sofia of Spain, numerous famous athletes and other personalities.
So the question is : " But what do you do with them?"...well, nothing really, it s mostly a bit of memorabilia.
I must admit i wasn't very good at this game, not really seeing the point but in the last couple of days, i got a handful of Haiti pins off our tight-fisted chef de mission and started to be on the lookout, not really knowing what countries i wanted, so i've ended up with a motley selection....Haiti being quite rare ( partly due the drip supply managed by the Chef de Mission), we could easily exchange one of them for 2 others...you see how this becomes addictive.
It's actually quite a nice little tradition as the pin is worth exactly how much each individual values it and i will keep mine for a while but knowing myself, i ll probably get bored of them soon. Maybe ebay???